Meal Patterns for Preschoolers in School Nutrition Programs

Overview

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) meal patterns for preschoolers (ages 1-4) in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) , School Breakfast Program (SBP), and Afterschool Snack Program (ASP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) of the NSLP are legislated by the USDA final rule, Child and Adult Care Food Program: Meal Pattern Revisions Related to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, and follow the same requirements as the CACFP.


Meal Patterns  |   Menu Planning  |   Meal Service
Serving the Same Menu to Preschoolers and Grades K-12
Preschoolers Eating with Other Grades (Comingled Meals)


Meal Patterns for Preschoolers

Meal Service for Preschoolers

Serving the Same Menu to Preschoolers and Grades K-12

The NSLP, SBP, SSO, and ASP meal patterns for preschoolers and grades K-12 are different. When school food authorities (SFAs) serve the same lunch, breakfast, or snack menu to both groups, the menu items must comply with whichever requirements are stricter. For example, the NSLP, SBP, and SSO meal patterns for grades K-12 have stricter whole grain-rich (WGR) criteria than the preschool meal patterns. Meals served to both groups must comply with the WGR criteria for grades K-12. The NSLP, SBP, SSO, and ASP preschool meal patterns require a sugar limit for yogurt and breakfast cereals, but the meal patterns for grades K-12 do not. Yogurt and breakfast cereals served to both groups must comply with the preschool sugar limit. 

Preschoolers Eating with Other Grades (Comingled Meals)

Meals and snacks served to preschoolers must meet the preschool meal patterns. However, the USDA allows an exception when:

  • preschoolers eat together in the same service area at the same time with older students (such as grades K-5);
  • it is hard to tell the preschoolers from older students; and
  • it would be operationally difficult to serve different foods or different amounts of foods during the combined meal service.

When these conditions are met, SFAs may offer the meal pattern of the older grades to preschoolers. For example, when preschoolers and grades K-5 eat lunch or breakfast in the same service area at the same time, SFAs may choose to follow the appropriate meal patterns for each group, or serve the K-5 meal pattern to both groups. When preschoolers and grades K-12 eat ASP snack in the same service area at the same time, SFAs may choose to follow the appropriate meal patterns for each group, or serve the ASP meal pattern for grades K-12 to both groups. 

Keep in mind that the preschool meal pattern provides the amounts and types of foods at meals that most younger children need for healthy growth and development. The USDA strongly encourages SFAs to find ways to serve grade-appropriate meals to preschoolers and older students to best address their nutritional needs.  

SFAs must follow the preschool meal patterns when meals and ASP snacks are served to preschoolers in a different area or at a different time. For more information, see USDA Memo SP 37-2017: Flexibility for Co-Mingled Preschool Meals: Questions and Answers and the USDA's handout, Serving School Meals to Preschoolers.